Roquan Smith picks Georgia nine days after announcing for UCLA

What started as one of UCLA’s most pleasant Signing Day surprises has finally fizzled out. Four-star linebacker Roquan Smith signed with Georgia on Friday, nine days after initially announcing for the Bruins on ESPNU.

His news wasn’t exactly a shocker — not after he essentially accused the UCLA staff of lying to him in an interview with Rivals.com this week. The top prospect out of Montezuma (Ga.) Macon County had yet to sign his letter of intent last Wednesday when news broke that defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich was leaving the Bruins to become the Atlanta Falcons’ linebackers coach.

After the debacle became a national story, Smith decided to sign a grant-in-aid agreement instead of an NLI. That leaves him the option to change schools without penalty until he enrolls.

UCLA finishes its 2015 class at No. 13 nationally on Rivals.com, and No. 9 on Scout.com.

Facebook Twitter Plusone Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

VIDEO: Steve Alford talks about UCLA’s 75-59 win vs Oregon State

Steve Alford talks about UCLA’s 75-59 win over Oregon State, one the Bruins opened with four straight 3-pointers and a stingy defensive performance. The two teams are now tied for fifth place in the Pac-12.

“We’re in a stretch here where we’ve been playing some really good basketball, and we’re going to need that,” he said.

RELATED:
– Mark Whicker’s column on UCLA’s 1995 championship team, which will be honored at halftime of Saturday’s game against Oregon.

Facebook Twitter Plusone Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Roquan Smith: Jeff Ulbrich said he ‘declined’ Falcons’ offer

Roquan Smith will sign scholarship papers on Friday, but judging from an interview with Rivals.com, the four-star linebacker didn’t sound keen on picking UCLA.

The Montezuma (Ga.) Macon County product had originally committed to the Bruins’ last Tuesday on ESPNU, seemingly capping a huge morning for UCLA. But news of defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich’s job offer from the Atlanta Falcons broke shortly afterward, prompting Smith to hold off on signing his letter of intent — and eventually stepping back to reevaluate UCLA, Georgia, Texas A&M and Michigan.

Smith clearly feels like UCLA wasn’t forthright with him during the recruiting process — and should have notified him of Ulbrich’s potential departure earlier.

From Rivals.com:

“It’s a great school and all of this and that, but Coach Ulbrich did say that Coach Dan Quinn (of the Atlanta Falcons) had called him the night before, but he had declined the job offer. I felt like Coach (Jim) Mora should have hit me up and said there’s potential that Coach Ulbrich may be leaving. Then, they tried to get me to go ahead and send the papers in, but I wasn’t doing it. They tried to get me to send them in at 8 in the morning.”

Asked if he felt misled, Smith said: “I kind of do. For them to be my first offer, yeah. I thought they were keeping it real with me, but you know people are going to lie.”

Facebook Twitter Plusone Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Q&A: Looking at ‘The Drive’ with producer Michael Tolajian

After two seasons of shooting football, the Pac-12 Networks’ “The Drive” docu-series is trying to focus on basketball for the first time — jumping around the conference to focus on its various teams. Tonight’s episode, which airs at 9 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks, is focused on UCLA and Oregon State.

“The Drive” crew shot the Bruins’ loss to Oregon State on Jan. 22, their win at home over Colorado on Jan. 31, and some of the practices leading up to each one. It also focused on the respective coaches, Steve Alford and Wayne Tinkle, as well as Bruin freshman Kevon Looney and Oregon State’s Gary Payton II.

I caught up with senior coordinator Michael Tolajian to ask him how the experience of shooting the two sports compared, as well as his thoughts on Alford and Jim Mora.

How did you pair teams together for episodes? This is the first episode that isn’t arranged geographically (i.e. Arizona State and Arizona, Colorado and Utah). Was it a factor that UCLA and Oregon State are teams have underachieved and overachieved, respectively?

Michael Tolajian: We weren’t set in stone with doing the local teams. We did it sometimes. A lot of it had to do with what the programming lead-in was going to be. … Ideally, there would be a live UCLA game or live Oregon State game going in. we weren’t able to do that every time, but that’s a good way to get audiences to tune in.

The other aspect was talking to the coaches and talking to the school. A lot of the times they had preferences. There was no set formula. It was kind of a combination.

We kind of set this early. We didn’t really know (who was good). Other than knowing Arizona would be good and maybe Utah. Really, the rest of the Pac-12, you could throw them in a hat. Any given night, you don’t really know. We shot with Cal. They started off well, went in the toilet, and then now they’ve won a few in a row. … It’s really been hard to predict. Like any documentary type programming, you just have to be there and follow along. Sometimes the stories contrast nicely, and sometimes not.

How does it compare to shooting “The Drive” for football the past two seasons? Do you lose a bit of depth in favor of breadth versus depth compared to the football format? Are there any advantages to being able to dabble around the conference through the season?

Tolajian: Unlike football, where it’s kind of episodic, you’re following along each and every week. You’re tied in every week. With basketball, we’re bouncing around the conference. More than it being about the narrative of the team, it’s really taking a step behind the curtain, hearing from some of the players, hearing how the coaches run the teams. … It’s really sights and sounds and process, rather than trying to tell some overarching story. Continue reading

Facebook Twitter Plusone Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Who will UCLA get to replace Mike Tuiasosopo?

UCLA’s relatively quiet search for a defensive coordinator isn’t the team’s only job opening. The Bruins have also let go of outside linebackers coach/special teams coordinator Mike Tuiasosopo, who served that position for just one season.

Tuiasosopo never looked like a great fit on UCLA’s staff, and if you had polled observers way back in August, he would have been the one least likely to keep his job at the end of the year. His background lay mostly in coaching defensive lines, and although he was nominally the special teams coordinator, those duties were split between different members of the staff.

So who’s up next? If Jim Mora decides to keep it in-house, the most logical choice would be Scott White, a former graduate assistant who assisted with coaching linebackers the past couple of seasons.

Facebook Twitter Plusone Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

At a glance: UCLA vs. Oregon State

UCLA Bruins (14-10, 6-5) vs. Oregon State (16-7, 7-4)
Tipoff: Wednesday, Feb. 11, 7 p.m., Pauley Pavilion
TV: Pac-12 Networks (Spero Dedes, Kevin O’Neill)
Radio: AM 570 (Chris Roberts, Tracy Murray)

Scouting report: If defense is mostly about effort, then first-year head coach Wayne Tinkle has Oregon State working harder than it has in at least a decade.

According to kenpom.com, the Beavers have ranked top-100 nationally in defensive efficiency since 2003, and sank all the way to 215th during former coach Craig Robinson’s final season. Just one year later, OSU is now ranked eighth — right behind Pac-12 leaders Utah and Arizona.

The team has become greater than the sum of its parts. Gutted by the loss of the team’s top-five scorers in 2013-14, Tinkle even resorted to holding an open tryout back in October. Now, he’s turned that collection of players into a roster that is fifth-best in the country in opposing 3-point percentage, top-20 in block and turnover percentage.

But like many teams in the conference, Oregon State hasn’t looked the same away from home. Continue reading

Facebook Twitter Plusone Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Looking back at Bryce Alford’s last shot in UCLA’s loss at Cal

If UCLA’s 64-62 loss at Cal last Saturday ends up being the game that costs the Bruins an NCAA Tournament berth, there might be one play that’s reviewed more than any other: Bryce Alford’s missed 3-pointer at the buzzer.

The offense stalled and missed five of its last six shots to end the game — including a poorly conceived jumper by Norman Powell that could’ve tied it — so it’s not fair to put the blame on one player. But Alford still had a chance to win the game, and arguably could have generated a better shot had he passed to a wide-open Isaac Hamilton on the other side of the court.

Looking at the replay, Alford had a chance to find Hamilton with about three seconds left on the game clock — when he was crossing the “Pete Newell” between his bench and the announcer’s table. While it would have been a tough pass, that Alford didn’t have his head on a swivel sank any chance of it happening. Hamilton also wasn’t wide open for another second or so, but Alford could have potentially identified that the defense was shifting away from that area — then lobbed it ahead.

“I didn’t see Isaac,” Alford said. “Obviously, watching tape, he was running down the court. … If I’d seen him, I definitely would have thrown it to him.” Continue reading

Facebook Twitter Plusone Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

When Roquan Smith picks a school, he won’t sign an NLI

There still isn’t a firm timetable on when four-star linebacker Roquan Smith will commit to school, but when that happens, he won’t be signing a National Letter of Intent.

Smith had originally picked UCLA over Georgia on last Wednesday, only to put off his decision after news broke that Bruin defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich would be heading to the Atlanta Falcons. As a precaution “in case something else unexpectedly happens again,” Montezuma (Ga.) Macon County coach Larry Harold told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Smith won’t be signing a letter at all.

That means that the 6-foot, 203-pound prospect will only sign a grant-in-aid agreement, which binds the school to the player — but not vice versa until the player enrolls. It allows coaches to publicly comment on the player, and can also be signed months before National Signing Day (as quarterback Josh Rosen did with UCLA last September). A player can also sign these agreements with multiple schools.

If anything, it’s surprising that more elite football recruits haven’t exercised their leverage and opted for this route, which has been taken more commonly in college basketball.

Facebook Twitter Plusone Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Clancy Pendergast officially hired by San Francisco 49ers

The San Francisco 49ers have officially hired longtime defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, striking one potential name off the list of candidates for UCLA defensive coordinator.

The Bruins officially announced Jeff Ulbrich’s departure for the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, although the offer was first reported last Tuesday.

Pendergast’s name had been tossed around as a potential replacement for Ulbrich, even though he had reportedly been hired by the 49ers. With the hire not yet finalized until today, the door remained open to the possibility that the 47-year-old might opt for the college ranks despite his distaste for recruiting. He had mentioned for defensive coordinator openings at both LSU and Utah last month.

He had been a defensive coordinator for the Arizona Cardinals and Kansas City Chiefs for over half a decade before taking the same position at Cal (2010-12) and USC (2013). Pendergast is about as bland as Ulbrich is charismatic, but is a football lifer with well-regarded knowledge of the Xs and Os.

UCLA could still opt for someone with a similar background — with the most popular name now being Jim Haslett, who worked with Bruin head coach Jim Mora on the New Orleans Saints staff in 1995 and 1996. Haslett mutually parted ways with Washington at the end of 2014, and is currently without a job.

An NFL-type hire would make sense for a few reasons. It would fit Mora’s pattern for hiring assistants, and could be used as a selling point with recruits — even if the candidate himself doesn’t turn out to be a stud recruiter. It also might be harder to lure a NCAA assistant away at this time of year, at least without a significant pay raise or other extenuating factors.

Facebook Twitter Plusone Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email